Guest Post by Jess
Jess is an unconventional leaf on a family tree that includes an unbelievably strong mother and two fantastic brothers. She is a PhD student in psychology. When she’s not doing school-ish things she likes to hike, knit, and bake…and then eat what she bakes.
I normally love my calling teaching Gospel Doctrine in my singles ward. It is a great opportunity to really dig in and study, and to learn from my fellow ward members. But this year has been a struggle. Church history brings up a lot of feelings for me, and most of them are not positive. Things came to a head as I was preparing my latest lesson: The Restoration of the Priesthood. The more I read, the more upset I became.
First of all, the relationship between women and the priesthood is something I have been struggling with lately, and I still have not figured out where I stand. Teaching about something that one is unsure about and uncomfortable with is really hard. Second, the only time women were mentioned was in a section titled “Blessings of the priesthood for all people,” where the question was asked, “how can women and children benefit from the priesthood?” (Infantilize women much?) There was not a single feminine pronoun in the whole lesson. The restoration of the priesthood was a big deal for everyone, not just men. Lucky for me, when I asked The Exponent’s own Spunky for help, she sent a ton of great resources, articles, and ideas of ways to balance things out. I went in to class on Sunday feeling well prepared and ready to teach.
Happily, my bishop does not insist that we stick to the lesson in the manual. In fact, he encourages us to follow the spirit in our lessons. So, I decided to focus on the importance of priesthood authority in terms of ordinances like baptism and the temple endowment. Those are things that are important to all God’s children right?
I was hoping to get a conversation going about women and the priesthood. It was a train wreck. After throwing a few feeler questions out to gauge where people stood, things devolved pretty quickly. There were a few people who had very traditional views, and were very vocal about it. That would have been fine; respecting everyone’s input is important. The problem was that no one would listen to each other. Eventually someone played the priesthood = motherhood card. That brought up the issue of, “what about women who can’t have children?” Someone else argued that when women get married, they become a single unit with their husbands, so they ‘have’ the priesthood because their husbands do. (I could do a whole other post about the things that are upsetting about that argument.)
I countered by asking what that meant for women all the sisters in the ward? I mean, it is a singles ward. Or what about women who never marry? Or women like my mother whose priesthood-holding husbands leave them, or who get divorced for other reasons? Or women who marry non-members? The best response anyone could come up with was, “Well, that’s what home teachers are for.” Um…in what conceivable way is being married equivalent to having home teachers? I can think of many things that would be uncomfortable asking a spouse for a blessing about, let alone the home teachers, assuming you actually know who is assigned to you.
The whole discussion bothered me for so many reasons. Motherhood is not the equivalent of priesthood; motherhood is the equivalent of fatherhood. Marriage does not equal priesthood any more than motherhood does. Marriage = being married. And having home teachers really does not equal having the priesthood. (I mean, really dude?…I’m still in shock over that one.) Also, every argument in favor of male-only priesthood makes women’s access to imperative saving ordinances contingent on having a worthy priesthood holder around who is willing to exercise that priesthood on her behalf. Not to mention the misguided men out there who use their priesthood to exercise unrighteous dominion (a phrase that I hate; when is dominion of one human being over another ever righteous?) over their families.
All of this excludes, or at the very least distances, so many wonderful and amazing women from having access to the blessings of our Heavenly Parents. I cannot believe that the kind, loving, caring, Heavenly Father and Mother that I have come to know would want to restrict their daughters access to even the smallest blessing of comfort or healing just because some home teacher isn’t doing his job.
Most importantly the conversation was symptomatic of a wider issue happening in the church as a whole. I honestly have not decided whether or not I think women should have the priesthood; I haven’t figured out what the role of women and the priesthood should be. I’m not trying to pick fights, or look for flaws in the Church, or bring people to ‘my side’ (whatever that is). I was hoping that this lesson would give me the chance to hear other people’s perspectives, because I genuinely want to understand. But all I got was the same bad logic, the same rote responses, and the same defensiveness that always come up when someone suggests unorthodox ideas, or hints that all is not perfect in Mormondom. Among some church members, there is a rigid inflexibility of thought that keeps us from perspective taking, and empathizing with the concerns of others.
What is it about our culture/tradition/doctrine that makes us so afraid of unorthodoxy?
Why is taking a hard look at our beliefs so aversive?
Why can’t we have open, honest, and compassionate dialogue that lets us find deep, meaningful answers together?
(As an aside, I struggle with teaching lessons when I am not sure how I feel about the information I am supposed to present, or when I down right disagree. How do you handle situations like this? How do you present information you disagree (or are uncomfortable) with? Is Sunday school an appropriate place to bring up your concerns, or is it better to just stick to the prescribed lesson? How can we, as teachers or class members, balance the expression of diverse opinions, including both our own and those we disagree with?)